Crescent Ballroom was packed to the gills Monday night. A whole lot of mega-fans (and some less rabid admirers) of Canadian indie-pop-rockers New Pornographers gathered to see the band play a hearty set of more than 20 songs. The set mixed tunes from all the band's offerings from the past 14 years, including a bunch of tracks from their new release, Brill Bruisers -- their first in four years. This tour is extra special, as members Neko Case and Dan Bejar were able to break away from their other projects and join the rest of the members; sometimes the band tours without one or both.
They fired off the title track from the new release to open the show, giving an instant refresher course in the goddamned sweet harmonies that occur when these people, in pretty much any combination, merge voices. Singer/guitarist A.C. Newman greeted the crowd after the second song, "Myriad Harbour" from their '07 release, Challenger, and then he and Case went on to engage in funny banter about the venue's ceiling being low and nearly reachable to an outstretched arm. There's something kind of refreshing about the band's slightly awkward and unplanned between-song chatter -- it highlights that weave of innocence and hope that permeates their music, even when the sentiments are on the darker side.
The impact of this seven-piece powerhouse of talent really kicked in on the fourth song, "War on the East Coast," another new one, written by Bejar, who handles the song's lead vocals. The blend of synth sounds, harmonica and the collective vocal choir was pretty electrifying. It definitely lit up the room and emphasized why Brill Bruisers is an exciting record and worth the four-year gap -- like they took a trip to Xanadu in between recordings and came back a little more trippy and dynamic, bringing all the goodness of electro-fantasy sensibilities to their already eclectic world.
From there, it was a parade of good choices, giving everyone an opportunity to shine. "Moves," from Together, gave current drummer Joe Seiders a chance to bust out some thundering beats. A lot of people have been bummed that longtime drummer Kurt Dahle left the band but Seiders is no shoddy replacement with his tight fills and strong hits. On this song, the drums were exhilarating as they towered a bit over the vocals, maintaining just enough restraint to not overpower. "Backstairs" was the NP's-meet-ELO and "Crash Years" had A.C. on the acoustic. The song features some pretty impressive group whistling which seems like an anxiety-inducing task for a live show, but they pulled it off pretty perfectly. The multi-skilled Newman is a pretty subtle character in presence, but he doesn't need flashy moves. There's not a doubt that he is a big part of the glue that keeps the ship together, along with his ability to write songs and turn them in to luscious, layered entities.
Case being there was a big deal for a lot of the fans, as her solo stuff has made her a star in her own right. But there's nothing about her presence that suggests she is looking for the diva spotlight. Before starting "Adventures In Solitude," she laughingly informed everyone that some pre-show acupuncture combined with lots of candy had her feeling "like a rocket ship right now," but her general composure was intact, and throughout the show her roots-y, ethereal voice was as spectacular as ever. Speaking of lovely voices, Kathryn Calder, who sings and plays keyboard, also has some pretty glorious pipes. After a few more songs, they wrapped up the lengthy set with "Mass Romantic," which seemed to make everyone happy. The version was a little quicker than the recording and was super punchy; some Beach Boys style harmonies were poignant. They came back out for an encore, playing the new "Dancehall Domine," and "Marching Orders," before closing it up with "The Bleeding Heart Show" from Twin Cinema. The song's slow, pulsing, deep drum beat flowed into a driving monstrosity of beauty.
See next page for set list and Critic's NotebookSet List
Brill Bruisers Myriad Harbor Use It War on the East Coast Moves All the Old Showstoppers Fantasy Fools Jackie, Dressed in Cobras Another Drug Deal of the Heart The Laws Have Changed Hi-Rise Testament to Youth in Verse Crash Years Adventures in Solitude Spidyr Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk Backstairs Silver Jenny Dollar Champions of Red Wine Born With a Sound Mass Romantic
Dancehall Domine Marching Orders The Bleeding Heart Show
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: New Pornographers at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: Already love them; get extra excited when they unleash their inner ELO. The crowd: Fans. Serious Fans. Overheard in the crowd: Dan Bejar looks a little bit like Raffi. (Editor's note - like the New Pornogs, the children's troubadour also hails from Canada).
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